Monday, 23 January 2012

Doubling consonants rules

In my first class of a new course, the subject of spelling came up, but because I didn't want to interrupt the flow of what we were doing at that time, I promised them that I'd explain the rules in the following class. This post accompanies that explanation.

One of the "strange" things about English language is the spelling, and one of the pet hates of learners is the doubling of consonants. Why do we have to spell "swimming" and "running", but "cooking" and "playing"?

There are rules regarding this which apply to endings -ed (past tenses, past participle), -ing (gerund, present participle), -er (comparative ) and -est (superlative):

  1. If it's a one-syllable word and it ends in one vowel + a consonant, the final consonant is doubled: drop-dropped, swim-swimming, thin-thinner-thinnest.

  2. If it has more than one syllable, we only double the final consonant if it satisfies rule #1 and if the final syllable is stressed: begin-beginning, prefer-preferred but visit-visited, endanger-endangered.

  3. Exception: we don't double w, x, or y: sew-sewing, box-boxing, sway-swaying.

  4. Another exception: In British English, l is doubled even though the final syllable isn't stressed: travel-travelled, cancel-cancelling; in American English, l is only doubled if the final syllable is stressed, but most of the time, they prefer one "l".

Can you think of words ending in -ed, -ing-, -er or -est associated with the above images?


  1. I promise to pinch this, Chiew. Wish I could remember with whom this question came up recently... Also wish I could upgrade my own memory.


  2. Haha, and me too! Feel free to pinch whatever you want! Will try to post about the lesson in The Dogme Diaries soon.

  3. Thanks for the useful info! The differences between British and American English are so interesting!


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